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Conflicts of Memory

The Reception of Holocaust Films and TV Programmes in Italy, 1945 to the Present


Emiliano Perra

Situated at the confluence of history, media and cultural studies, this book reconstructs the often deeply discordant and highly selective memories of the Holocaust in Italy in the postwar era. The author’s core method is one of reception analysis, centred on the public responses to the many films and television programmes that have addressed the Holocaust from the 1940s to the present day. Tied to the heritage of Fascism, antifascism, and the Resistance, public memory of the Holocaust in Italy has changed greatly over the years. Self-acquitting myths of Italian innocence and victimhood, and universalising interpretations grounded in Catholicism and Communism, provided the initial frameworks for understanding the Holocaust. However, the last two decades have seen an increasing centrality of the Holocaust in memory culture but have also witnessed the establishment of a paradigm that relativises other fascist crimes and levels the differences between Fascism and antifascism. Working with the largest corpus yet established of Holocaust film and television in Italy, from the 1948 retelling of the Wandering Jew myth to Roberto Benigni’s controversial Life Is Beautiful, from the American miniseries Holocaust to Perlasca: The Courage of a Just Man, Conflicts of Memory probes Italy’s ongoing, if incomplete, process of coming to terms with this important aspect of its past.


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Acknowledgements vii


Acknowledgements This book began as a dissertation written at the University of Bristol. My heartfelt thanks go to my supervisors Tim Cole, Charles Burdett, and Derek Duncan. Charles and Derek skillfully advised me on my take on Italian culture. Tim introduced me to the complexity of Holocaust discourse and provided guidance throughout, being an enthusiastic supervisor and a good friend. The research would not have been possible without finan- cial contributions from the AHRC, the Faculty of Arts at the University of Bristol, and the British School at Rome, for which I am truly grateful. The Department of Historical Studies at the University of Bristol and the British School at Rome – where I spent nine months as Rome Fellow – further provided vibrant academic environments that allowed my doctoral and postdoctoral research to grow and develop. Many people working in libraries and archives helped me during my research, too numerous to mention individually but all appreciated with thanks. A particular debt of gratitude is, however, owed to Gian Luigi Farinelli and Roberta Antonioni at the Cineteca di Bologna, Silvia Bruni at the RAI Biblioteca Centrale in Rome, and everyone at the Archiginnasio in Bologna for their efficiency. I would also like to thank the many people who have read portions of my work and have given encouragement and advice over the years: the commissioning editor at Peter Lang, Hannah Godfrey, and the Italian Modernities series editors, Pierpaolo Antonello and Robert Gordon, for taking interest in this project, and Robert in particular...

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